Revenge is sweet when you scam the scammers
Acorn TV’s Brit drama Cold Call really should come with a viewer warning. This miniseries is a million times more scary than most horror movies, purely because it focuses on the deepest fear of many people today. With phone scams, email phishing, identity theft and bank fraud becoming ever more prevalent, I had palpitations just watching the first episode. But our inner dread is what makes Cold Call so relatable as well as compelling - as the main character finds her bank account wiped out in an instant, we can all share in her desire to take down the fraudsters. Big time.
The four-part series was produced by Acorn and first broadcast in the UK on Channel 5 over four consecutive nights in 2019. In a bizarre real-life twist, actress Sally Lindsay revealed to The Evening Standard that she herself was targeted by phone scammers just a week before she signed up to star in the drama. How spooky is that.
As we all know only too well, bank robbers no longer need to dig tunnels, plan elaborate heists or wear balaclavas to steal your life savings; they simply pick up the telephone. We’re all just one careless conversation or click away from financial ruin.
Cold Call reveals how dodgy (but highly sophisticated) call centers are just part of a chain usually linked to international organized crime syndicates. When Manchester mum June Clarke loses her job and is struggling to support her family as the sole breadwinner, being scammed is the final straw. Aided and abetted by old school friend Des (Daniel Ryan from The Bay) she sets out on a dangerous hunt to retrieve her stolen dosh, whatever the cost.
The wealthy perpetrator behind June’s scam (Line of Duty’s Paul Higgins) initially comes across as charming and respectable, as fraudsters often do. As the story develops, he turns out to have troubles of his own and is actually rather likable. But enough to make you feel sorry if he gets his just deserts? Nope, me neither.
And so his victim June resorts to increasingly desperate measures to get both her money back and sweet revenge. With each episode Cold Call’s plot becomes darker and more sinister as the danger escalates. Does June realize the risks she is taking and who she’s really dealing with? While we may question the wisdom of her actions, we can also relate to her hunger for vengeance.
And deep down, we’re all cheering her on.
All episodes of Cold Call are streaming now
on Acorn TV.
BritBox’s new cop drama makes absolutely no attempt to glamorize police work. The Responder centers on the seedy side of Liverpool after dark via the nocturnal shifts of a first responder beat bobby answering late-night emergency calls. This is certainly not the sort of job young rookie police recruits ever dream of. Instead, it’s a miserable picture of modern day Britain; inadequate social care, broken, overloaded and underfunded systems, those living on the edge of society and a drug culture that’s out of control. Be warned, dear viewer: The Responder is very sweary, drug-centered, grim, raw and totally depressing. But while it shows Merseyside at its very worst, this story of a demoralized police officer on the edge of despair is, in many ways, just too painfully realistic not to watch.
The series stars Martin Freeman speaking Scouse (he does a pretty good job with the accent) and making those quirky facial expressions of perplexed bemusement we’re all so familiar with from The Office. It also stars my favourite native Liverpudian Ian Hart, who I interviewed for The Times Ed several years ago (see below for my little anecdotal story about him). Ian is brilliant, as always, in the role of dodgy drug-dealer Carl Sweeney, although the less said about his dreadful wig the better.
The Responder was inspired by the experiences of screenwriter Tony Schumacher, who once worked as a first response policeman himself. Freeman plays PC Chris Carson, a hardworking copper who’s financially struggling on basic wages to support his family and pay for his dying mum’s care home. Each shift finds him constantly wrestling to do his job, stay on the right side of the law and endure the torrents of abuse from those he’s trying to help. As he tells his therapist, “Every night, there’s spit on my face and blood on my boots and it never stops.” On top of all this, he’s also dealing with a troubled homelife, the pressure of police politics, fractured relations with his fellow officers, and a moral dilemma that could destroy his life forever.
No wonder the poor bloke’s on the verge of a mental breakdown.
But despite the darkness (both literal and figurative), The Responder is compelling viewing; a bit like a car accident at the side of the road - tragic, chaotic, devastating and messy. But no matter how hard you try to make yourself look away, it’s impossible not to watch.
The Responder is streaming now on BritBox.
My funny story about interviewing
Ian was working in LA at the time, so we had to do the interview by phone. (Yes, I did try to get an all-expenses-paid trip to California, but my editor was having none of it). Ian was playing the role of an American for a new TV series, and I phoned him during a break from filming. At first, I was worried that I'd got hold of the wrong "Ian Hart", as he was speaking with a strong American accent. But as the conversation went on, and he started to reminisce about his childhood in Liverpool, his accent slowly changed into broad Scouse.
I knew he was the right one then!
He later explained that he had been trying to keep his voice consistent to his role, especially while on set.
At the end of the interview we chatted about one of his most famous roles, as Professor Quirrell in the first Harry Potter movie. He confessed to not enjoying Hollywood at all, and that he really missed England. He also filled me in about the TV show he was then filming, Dirt, with Courteney Cox. "She plays the editor and I play a photographer at a really trashy magazine - a bit like NOW magazine back home," he explained.
I almost blurted out, "Oh, I've written for NOW magazine!" but wisely decided I'd keep that one to myself.
At last, a hard-hitting TV drama without the usual hard-core cursing.
Who knew murder could be so refreshingly clean?
I may be a bit late to the party, but I just discovered one of Acorn TV's hidden gems.
London Kills is a brilliant British detective drama that dares to be different, in that it’s surprisingly non-sweary.
Not that I’m a prude or anything. Okay, so I am a bit of a prude, but I really do appreciate the important purpose and place for profanity, and mainstream television is not one of them.
Every culture and language has its own expletives as a means of expressing extreme emotion - the final warning in verbal form. However, as obscenity-littered scripts have become TV norm on both sides of the Atlantic, I’m convinced there is a link between the now common acceptance of cursing in everyday language and a more violent society. As swear words lose their power, how can humans successfully communicate anger without resorting to physical aggression? And films and television are largely responsible for this. Rather than being used sparingly for maximum dramatic effect, four-letter words are casually thrown around on screen, desensitizing viewers to their impact without us hardly even noticing.
Okay, rant over and back to London Kills.
Made exclusively for Acorn TV in 2019 and later broadcast on BBC 1, London Kills features a backdrop of iconic city landmarks and follows a team of top murder detectives. This specialist squad is headed by broody Detective Inspector David Bradford (played by Hugo Speer) who is battling personal anguish and haunted by the fact that his wife has been missing for the past three months. He is assisted by Detective Sergeant Vivienne Cole (Sharon Small) who’s hard-as-nails (don’t let her cute little hair clips fool you) and all-round nice bloke Detective Constable Rob Brady, played by Bailey Patrick. The new girl is trainee DC Billie Fitzgerald (Tori Allen-Martin), who spends much of the first episode puking up her breakfast at crime scenes and morgues.
The main characters are instantly likable, the storylines grim, gritty and bloody, and the series is shot in cutting-edge documentary style. The squad room phone-ringing soundtrack is very jingly-jangly and a little distracting at times, but each epiosde focuses on a different murder and there is a continuous thread surrounding the mystery of Bradford’s missing wife throughout the series to keep us all guessing.
London Kills is sleek, modern and fast-paced.The Times described it as “Brilliant original drama… totally gripping”. It’s intense, powerful, emotional, shocking; all this and not a single F-word to be heard. London Kills proves that TV shows can still be hard-hitting without the need for constant cursing or obscenity overload.
And that makes a refreshing change.
Brideshead’s back -
but as we’ve never seen it before
For those of us of a certain age, Brideshead Revisited will always have a special place in our hearts. The beloved TV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel was a phenomenal success when first shown in 1981. And now, in honor of the 40th anniversary of its original broadcast, on October 12 we too can revisit Brideshead, Charles, Sebastian and Aloysius (the teddy bear) as the iconic series has been beautifully restored, remastered and re-worked in glorious 4K high definition by BritBox.
Considered to be one of the greatest literary adaptations of all time and even called “the biggest British invasion since the Beatles'' by The New York Times, the story follows the life and romances of Charles Ryder (played by Jeremy Irons). Charles is befriended at Oxford by Sebastian Flyte (Anthony Andrews), who’s from a family of aristocratic English Catholics living in a palatial mansion called Brideshead (filmed at beautiful Castle Howard in Yorkshire). Set in the 1920s to the early 1940s, the series also stars the legendary Laurence Olivier in one of his later television roles. His emotional final scene in the Chinese Drawing Room is among my all-time favourite TV moments!
Even after 40 years, this incomparable 11-part miniseries remains as “one of history’s finest period dramas” (Harper's Bazaar) and “television’s greatest literary adaptation, bar none” (The Telegraph).
The colors and clarity of the 4K remastering are absolutely spectacular. It’s almost as if we, the viewers, are returning to Brideshead after many years away, and seeing it all in a new light, just as Charles Ryder does in the final episode.
Tune into BritBox, relive the memories, and revisit Brideshead yourself.
Check out the stunning quality of the restoration in this video from BritBox
I’ve long been an admirer of acclaimed TV writer Jimmy McGovern, and this new BritBox three-part prison drama has all of his trademarks: a northern England setting, complex characters, gritty realism and harrowing scenes that are almost too hard to watch - but at the same time too brilliant to miss.
Time is the story of prisoner Mark Cobden (played by Sean Bean). Cobden, a gentle, well-educated man is behind bars for a drunk-driving fatality, heart wrenchingly out of his depth and desperately fighting for survival in a brutal environment. Stephen Graham (Line of Duty) plays conflicted prison officer Eric McNally, striving to treat inmates with decency and respect but also struggling to survive in a world of intimidation, threats and corruption.
The supporting cast includes Siobhan Finneran, Sue Johnstone and Graham's real-life wife (Hannah Walters) playing his on-screen wife too. While all the acting is superb, Bean and Graham who've both worked with McGovern many times before, are absolutely outstanding.
As you would expect from a prison drama, there are violent, disturbing scenes, emotional themes and devastating events throughout. Undoubtedly gripping but certainly not easy viewing, this is brilliantly bleak, traumatic telly at its very best.
Time will lock you in and throw away the key. But only if you can bear to watch.
Time - all episodes streaming now on BritBox.
Have you already watched Time?
Leave your comments below.
Acorn or BritBox - which one is best?
Whether you’re an American anglophile or one of us expats missing our Brit telly from home, you’ve no doubt heard of Acorn TV and BritBox. But the big question is - which one’s best?
Ever happy to oblige, I’ve included all you need to know about both streaming services, and even asked some Brit telly fans which one they prefer.
All About Acorn
Called a “glorious streaming service… an essential must-have” (The Hollywood Reporter) and “Netflix for the Anglophile” (NPR), AMC Networks’ Acorn TV is North America’s largest streaming service specializing in British and international television. Acorn TV adds exclusive new programs every week with a deep library of mysteries, dramas, and comedies with no commercials. In 2021, Acorn TV features several commissioned original series including the second season of Miss Fisher spinoff Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, British crime drama Whitstable Pearl, Kiwi romantic comedy Under the Vines and British detective drama Dalgliesh starring Bertie Carvel, as well as Irish crime thriller Bloodlands starring James Nesbitt and co-executive produced by Jed Mercurio, the return of New Zealand detective series My Life Is Murder starring Lucy Lawless, popular Canadian period drama Murdoch Mysteries, and a growing catalog of popular bingeable dramas that include A Place to Call Home, Detectorists, Jack Irish and Foyle’s War. Recent Acorn TV original series include Deadwater Fell starring David Tennant and Cush Jumbo, highly-rated BBC One drama The Nest; and groundbreaking BBC One period drama A Suitable Boy from Mira Nair. Upcoming Acorn TV original UK detective series in 2022 include Harry Wild starring Jane Seymour, The Chelsea Detective starring Adrian Scarborough and Signora Volpe starring Emilia Fox.
Acorn TV costs $5.99/month or $59.99/year after a free 7-day trial.
Facebook: OfficialAcornTV – Twitter: @AcornTV – Instagram: @Acorn_tv
From mysteries to histories, comedy to cookery, BritBox brings you the best of British television, direct from the UK. You can binge beloved classics, exclusive new series and special live events, with many premieres, current affairs and soaps streaming the same day as the UK. The streaming service was created by two British content powerhouses - BBC Studios, the commercial subsidiary arm of the BBC, and ITV, the UK’s biggest commercial broadcaster. With 2 million subscribers outside the UK, BritBox also prides itself on the significant number of original content since The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco in 2018 to recently released series such as McDonald & Dodds S2. Other fan favourites include the highly acclaimed Line of Duty, as well as The Fall starring Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan.
Looking ahead to next year, BritBox recently announced a new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Why Didn't They Ask Evans? starring Emma Thompson and Jim Broadbent among their highlights for 2022.
BritBox is available for $6.99 per month/$69.99 per year—after an introductory free trial period—on Roku®, Amazon Fire TV stick, Apple TV 4th Gen, Samsung, LG and all iOS and Android devices, AirPlay, Chromecast, and online at https://www.britbox.com/us/. BritBox is also available on Amazon Channels for Prime members and on Apple TV Channels on supported devices.
Facebook: @BritBox US
But what do real viewers think?
Kara in Atlanta:
“I have both: BritBox is great for keeping up-to-date on my favourite soaps. Acorn has a range of shows from the UK, Australia, New Zealand. I would say BritBox content is more current and has a substantial collection of vintage Brit comedy. Acorn has some gems, but I find I have to hunt a little more to find the stuff I like on Acorn.”
Frank and Christine in Florida:
“I’d say they are about equal, with Acorn having the tiniest edge for us. Mind you, we mainly watch thrillers, murder mysteries and legal/police shows. Neither of us like modern British comedy shows.
We watch more Acorn than Britbox because there is a better, if somewhat older, overall selection. What is annoying about it is it has a very clunky interface. There are no descriptions of each show on the screen - just a name. You have to use the internet to get a basic description. If you are watching a series, and say watched episode 5 tonight, go there tomorrow and there is no “continue watching” function. You have to hunt for episode 6 as if starting over. Another thing to consider is that you better have a good grasp of British regional accents. Virtually no shows on Acorn have closed captioning.
Britbox is slicker but lacks content volume. Our favorite shows are Vera (no new content in about 2 years), Shetland (no new content since forever), Line of Duty (now apparently finished) and Grace where they have only shown 2 episodes so far. They have far too little new material. We go months waiting for something decent.”
Lin in Atlanta:
“We love BOTH of them equally! They offer different genres of programs, dramas and series offerings. It will be hard to say which is the better, because they both offer all the programs that we love...mysteries and Detective series!”
The bottom line
So, all things considered, which one should you go for? Well, it very much depends on what you’re looking for. Both streaming services have lots to offer and tons of great stuff. At the end of the day, which one’s best is very much a matter of personal preference.
Whether you pick Britbox, Acorn TV
or even both (like me)
your Brit telly fix will be well sorted.
You can also read my latest Acorn and BritBox reviews here
Do you prefer BritBox or Acorn TV ?
Leave a comment below.
Probably the creepiest drama on BritBox
July is Mystery Month on BritBox, featuring a whole host of whodunits - Agatha Christie, Luther, Line of Duty, Death in Paradise,The Bay and
many, many more.
But one of the highlights for me is definitely
The Fall - a gripping Anglo-Irish psychological thriller that’s much more of a mystery “whydunit” than your typical police crime-solving drama.
If you haven’t seen it yet, a word of warning - this series is super scary too. When my lovely (single) friend Higgi told me she was looking forward to bingeing The Fall, I pleaded with her, “Please make sure someone else is at home before you start”.
Even though I’d watched while clinging tightly to poor hubby’s arm, I still had to keep checking under the bed for weeks after.
In her first investigative role since The X Files, Gillian Anderson stars as Stella Gibson, a successful, highly driven homicide detective, cool as a cucumber in an endless supply of crisp white shirts and pristine pencil skirts. The Belfast serial killer she’s hunting down is revealed from the start as handsome family man and seemingly caring counsellor Paul Spector (played by Jamie Dornan of Fifty Shades fame). Thus begins a chilling game of cat and mouse, as this five-part thriller explores the theory (along similar lines toThe Great Train Robbery) - to catch a depraved psycho, the hunter must learn to think just like the hunted.
Oh, and in case I didn’t mention how dark and creepy it is, The Fall even won an Edgar Allan Poe award for being dark and creepy. When the series first aired on BBC in 2013, one UK viewer tweeted, “Already planning new windows and security system for the entire house”.
The Fall is strikingly original, relentlessly riveting and totally brilliant telly that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Just don’t watch it alone.
Money, Money, Money
Be careful what you wish for
For most people, winning the lottery sounds like a dream come true. But as every episode of The Syndicate has taught us, striking it rich comes at a price.
Kay Mellor’s BBC drama began back in 2012, with each series centering on a different fictional Lotto-winning syndicate, from supermarket workers and hospital employees to the staff of a stately home. All-star casts have included Timothy Spall, Alison Steadman, Lenny Henry and Anthony Andrews. The character of Denise Simpson (played by Lorraine Bruce) has appeared in all four seasons, first as a lucky winner herself and then as a smiley “Winners Adviser” in each subsequent series.
The 2021 Syndicate - Double or Nothing, now streaming on BritBox, stars Neil Morrissey and involves a crew of skint doggy daycare staff. When someone else does a runner with their prize jackpot, will the cash-strapped pooch-pamperers ever get their hands on the missing £27 million that’s rightfully theirs?
A frantic chase takes the gang from Leeds to Monaco, and the plot is pretty much light-hearted, easy viewing, albeit with some dark shadows as each character’s secret past is revealed.
Will the mega million fortune they seek bring them happiness in the end?
Life, or even BBC drama, is rarely as simple as that.
Contrary to ABBA’s famous lyrics, money money money isn’t always funny, and as The Syndicate teaches us, big bucks are not easily won.
But despite this cautionary tale, most of us still wouldn’t turn our noses up at a few million quid.
We can but dream.
The Syndicate is streaming on BritBox now.
Breaking news: July 7 - July 12, 2021, BritBox is offering one year subscriptions at only $39.99 (regularly $69.99) in the U.S.
Time to brush-up on the cop-shop lingo -
Line of Duty is back
The most exciting drama on TV (ever) returns for season 6 this week, streaming exclusively in North America on BritBox.
Along with Superintendent Ted Hastings (“As in the battle, ma’am” - what a great line) and our favourite “mates” Steve and Kate, the latest series features the usual acronym overload we’ve come to expect from Line of Duty. So if you can’t tell your UCO from your OCG, now is a good time for a refresher.
Naturally, the long-awaited new season of Jed Mercurio’s hit drama involves the usual shocking twists, bombshell revelations, dodgy characters, cover-ups and intense interrogation scenes, as Hastings and team once again crack down on police corruption in the hunt for bent coppers. When it aired in the UK earlier this month, the series 6 finale pulled in a record-breaking 12.8 million viewers, which according to the BBC, makes it the most-watched episode of any drama since modern records began.
But if you’re anything like me, you might miss some of Line of Duty’s nail-biting best bits as you struggle to keep up with the AC-12 jargon, abbreviations and code-words. To save you scratching your head and reaching for your phone/Google, here’s a quick recap on the ones you really need to know:
OCG – Organized crime group
SCG – Serious crime group
UCO - Undercover Officer
ARU - Armed Response Unit
ARV - Armed Response Vehicle
CIS - Crime Information System
CPS - Crown Prosecution Service
MIT - Murder Investigation Team
GSW - Gunshot Wound
DIR - Digital Interview Recording
Fahrenheit – 'shoot to kill' order
Status zero – Radio code, officer needs immediate assistance
Reg 15 – Regulation 15 Notice, police disciplinary notice
Those of us Stateside will be able to stream one episode each week from May 18.
BritBox kindly granted me a sneak-peek at the new series, but please don’t ask me if the true identity of “H” is finally revealed. If I told you, I’d probably have to kill you.
But I can tell you to keep an ear out for some terrific Ted-isms (the “wee donkey” reference is hilarious).
And now that you’ve swotted up on your jargon, I can also spill the beans on this new one from series 6: “CHIS” stands for “covert human intelligence source”, aka informant/grass/snitch. You’re welcome.
While we might complain that sussing out the cop-shop lingo is a tad frustrating, knowing the difference between an ARV and the ARU can actually make us mere civvies feel like we’ve successfully infiltrated the covert world of anti-corruption.
Let’s be honest - without all those annoying acronyms, Line Of Duty just wouldn’t be quite as brilliant.
Line of Duty S6 is streaming on BritBox, starting May 18th.
While you’re waiting for the new series, here’s my favourite Line Of Duty spoof,
featuring Lee Mack (from Would I Lie To You?).
Bloodlands - bloody brilliant drama
The best telly doesn’t only happen at the weekend. Starting this Monday, with perfect timing for St. Paddy’s Day, Acorn TV presents a gritty Norn Irish crime thriller from the bloke who brought us Line of Duty and Bodyguard. Having enjoyed a sneak peek ahead of broadcast (thank you Acorn for the press screening) I can reveal Bloodlands is more of the intense, nail-biting stuff we’ve come to expect from a Jed Mercurio production.
Already a huge hit in the UK, Bloodlands is about to launch in North America as Acorn rolls out new episodes on Mondays (similar to how BritBox is broadcasting current content).
The four-part drama stars James Nesbitt as Tom Brannick, a veteran detective forced to confront his own dark past when an infamous cold case with enormous personal significance re-emerges. Nesbitt is brilliantly broody and moody, struggling to suppress the pain of the past as he attempts to protect the present.
Set against the dramatic backdrop of the Belfast shipyards and the misty Mourne Mountains, Bloodlands is full of twists and turns, shocks and surprises. Similar to Line of Duty, there are hints at police corruption and a possible fox in the henhouse. In the aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement, the plot echoes back to the turbulent, troubled times in Northern Ireland over 20 years ago.
I recently read that (in real life) Nesbitt is patron of Belfast’s Wave Trauma Centre and actively campaigns on behalf of the families of the “Disappeared” – 16 people, mostly civilians, who were kidnapped, killed and buried in unmarked graves by paramilitary groups during the Troubles. The stark parallels between this and the (albeit fictional) events in Bloodlands makes this thriller even more poignant and eerie.
Yes, Bloodlands is grim and gritty, and will keep you guessing till the very end. But this is Ulster, and along with the OMG moments there are even
some LOL moments; to quote hubby,
“Irish sarcasm at its best!”.
If you enjoyed Bodyguard and Line of Duty, you’ll love Bloodlands.
Thanks to Nesbitt, Mercurio and Acorn TV, I’m actually looking forward to Mondays now.
BLOODLANDS PREMIERES MONDAY, MARCH 15 ON ACORN TV. New episodes will stream weekly every Monday through April 5.
“BritBox Now” brings Brit telly bang up-to-date
I’ve long been singing the praises of BritBox for bringing brilliant Brit telly to America, but the BBC/ITV streaming service is getting even better. Not only does it offer an extensive collection of classic TV favourites (from Dad’s Army to Downton Abbey) but BritBox is also broadcasting even more current content from the UK right now, under the title of erm, “Now”. Pretty handy for keeping up with all the latest telly gossip from back home.
Many of BritBox’s hit series are available within hours of their UK broadcast with the service’s “Now” feature – including all the favourite soaps (EastEnders, Emmerdale, Coronation Street, Casualty and Holby City); dramas such as Cold Feet, starring Golden Globe nominee James Nesbitt, and Vera starring Oscar nominee Brenda Blethyn; reality programming such as Escape From The Country and Countryfile; panel shows such as Pointless and QI; news shows such as Good Morning Britain; and simulcasts of major live UK events such The Queen’s Christmas Message.
Right now on “Now” (sorry!) I’m most excited to see the latest episodes of The Bay (series 2), another original BritBox co-production, as well as the brand new mystery drama Traces.
For anyone who thought the BritBox catalogue contains only golden oldies, think again - it’s actually so much more. BritBox’s 1.5 million subscribers enjoy the latest and greatest British telly; Indie Wire calls it ”the Hulu alternative for all your UK programming needs”.
And with even more current content, BritBox is becoming bang up-to-date.
So next time your friends across the pond want to online chat about Corrie or ask “Who’s watching The Bay tonight?”, you’ll be right there with them.
More info: BritBox Now
TV treasure - another Toby Jones hidden gem that’s pure gold
Quirky roles that evoke gentle humor, tenderness and compassion, silent suffering and a fair share of pathos too - these are a few of my favorite things about Toby Jones (see my earlier reviews of Marvelous and Don’t Forget the Driver). And so I’m thrilled that Acorn is streaming all three series of the BAFTA-award winning Detectorists, co-starring Mackenzie Crook (Gareth from The Office) who also wrote and directed this hidden gem.
Jones and Crook play Andy and Lance, two metal-detecting mates whose geeky hobby/obsession provides an escape from the humdrum mediocre of middle-age and their uneventful lives. Along with the other devoted members of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club (an eccentric collection of likeable oddbods) they dream of unearthing long-forgotten Saxon relics, as opposed to Tizer ring-pulls and Tufty Club badges, buried beneath the fields of Essex. Their companionship centers around mutual affection, dreams and disappointments ... and childishly poking fun at “Simon and Garfunkel”, their rival detectorist duo, whenever possible.
The cast also includes none other than Diana Rigg as Andy’s mum-in-law, who also just happened to be the real-life mother of his on-screen wife Becky, played by Rachael Sterling. The very presence of Dame Diana, shortly before her death, gives Detectorists the serious clout it fully deserves. And the folksy theme song by Johnny Flynn just adds even more to its charm (look out for Flynn singing down the pub in series 1).
In terms of storyline, not much happens at all.
Each episode is naturally slow-paced, with plenty of pregnant pauses, making it almost Pinteresque. The script is more whimsical than side-splitting (and a bit sweary, with some very strong language at times) and overall Detectorists is powerfully simple. However, the hidden jewel here is buried within the characters Crook has created. Digging deeper below the superficial surface, Lance and Andy are really searching for love, friendship, fulfillment, hope and happiness - the true treasures of life.
Watching Detectorists is such a lovely surprise; it’s so laid-back you’ll feel like you spent several half hours leisurely ambling through the English countryside on a warm summer day yourself. But unlike Lance and Andy, you will have discovered that some riches are not buried underground; they can be found on your TV screen instead.
Detectorists series 1-3 (plus bonus features) is streaming on Acorn TV.
Facts, fiction, fibs, bluffs and banter.
Would I Lie to You? is the funniest show on TV. Honest.
Let’s face it, we could all do with a good laugh to cheer us up right now. Hubby and I recently discovered this brilliant Brit comedy by accident (when we caught a clip featuring one of my favourites, Joe Lycett, as a guest) and got pulled right in. Turns out the smash-hit panel game show has been going since 2007 when it first aired on BBC One in the UK. It seems we’ve got some catching-up to do, so the entire Would I Lie to You? (WILTY) collection is now top of our BritBox watchlist and is one of the few things on telly these days that regularly has me in stitches.
The WILTY format is vaguely similar to the US and UK classic quiz shows What’s My Line? and Call My Bluff ; two teams compete as each player divulges unusual facts, deep secrets and embarrassing personal experiences, while the opposing team decides if it’s straight up gospel true or just a cock and bull story. Each episode also features a mystery guest who has some bizarre connection to one of the panelists. The other team has to suss out whose tall tale is actually legit before the guest reveals their real identity.
And did I mention, it’s really, really funny?
Over 13 series, the impressive list of panelists has included Jo Brand, Ricky Tomlinson, Richard E. Grant, Ray Winston, Ken Livingston, Olivia Colman, Michael McIntyre and Germaine Greer, not forgetting Jimmy Carr and Eamonn Holmes (both of whom I once interviewed for The Times). But my favourite thing about every episode is the hilarious banter between team captains David Mitchell and Lee Mack, interlaced with witty quips from host Rob Brydon.
This winning formula of improv comedy has earned the series several awards as well as spawning a book, a board game and numerous international TV spin-offs. I also love the fact that WILTY is refreshingly family-friendly funny with no smutty jokes or sneering jibes. The quick-witted humor, which is razor-sharp, involves gentle teasing without ever being nasty or humiliating. Just good, clean fun.
If you’re looking for a little light-hearted relief from reality, turn on the telly and start streaming Would I Lie to You? on BritBox. Believe me, you’ll feel so much better - and that’s the truth.
Would I Lie to You? is streaming now on BritBox
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Mr Darcy as you’ve never seen him before!
Pride and Prejudice remastered in 4K for the first time ever.
To commemorate the 25th anniversary of BBC's critically acclaimed Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, BritBox has completely digitized the original Super 16mm film masters at 4K resolution.
The result is a markedly more vivid experience in both HD and 4K, restoring and optimizing Jane Austen’s timeless classic for modern telly.
Great news for costume drama fans ...
and admirers of Mr Darcy's wet shirt in particular.
Check out the difference –
it really looks great!
BritBox serves up another
Toby Jones gem.
Don’t overlook this one.
Since I absolutely loved Toby Jones in the marvelous TV movie Marvelous, I was intrigued to discover him co-creating, co-writing and starring in another quirky Brit series, once again to critical acclaim.
Don’t Forget the Driver is officially a dark comedy, although I think the Guardian's label of “sad-com” is much more appropriate. This is a bleak, tragic tale of post-Brexit Brits based in Bognor, where smiles seem in short supply and any sign of a bright future looks like a no-deal.
Jones plays Peter Green, an unremarkable man of quiet routine. The highlights of his life include clip-on ties, limp packed lunches, his stroppy teenage daughter Kayla and a mum with Alzheimers who’s convinced he’s actually his twin brother. Peter’s job as a coach driver involves transporting Japanese tourists to Hampton Court, singing Baptists to a donkey sanctuary and a bus-load of grumpy pensioners on a day-trip booze cruise to Calais. His unassuming life is aptly reflected in the title of the series, as Peter is a man often overlooked. But the tide turns abruptly when a body is washed up on Bognor beach and Peter discovers a stowaway asylum seeker in the luggage compartment of his coach. His dull life will never be the same again and there’s no going back.
The script is a bit sweary, with frequent typically British “bollocks” and a few F-words too. But if you can bear the language, the dramatic story-line and impressive character studies make this must-watch telly. There’s Kayla’s mate and fellow misfit Brad, with his sick sense of humour and eccentric fashion sense, who is training to be an undertaker. Peter’s friend Fran runs the Phil-Me-Up Snack Shack where he buys his bacon butties before hitting the road. Kindly Fran gives vegetarian Kayla a job flipping burgers, while secretly wishing Pete would pay less attention to her disabled son and more attention to her. And then there’s his decidedly dodgy yet charming colleague Lech, the Polish mechanic, who is living on Peter’s coach. Each of these characters grow and develop as the story unfolds, and with Jones playing a double part as his twin brother Bazza too, the acting all round is outstanding.
BritBox is teasingly releasing only two of the six episodes per week, which just adds even more to the tension and intrigue. The first episode started slowly but soon had me hooked, and the brilliantly unexpected ending of episode two totally took my breath away. There’s pain, pathos and anguish as Pete is unwillingly thrust into the world of illegal immigrants, refugees and human trafficking. No wonder Don’t forget the Driver has won awards and already been commissioned by the BBC to make a return trip.
Don’t be fooled by the deceptively “ordinary” appearance of this drama: it is in fact extraordinary television on so many levels. As the hopeful tip basket on Peter’s coach gently reminds his passengers, don’t forget the driver. And definitely don’t forget to watch this one.
Don’t Forget the Driver is streaming now on BritBox.
Best in Paradise
(no, that’s not a typo)
The safest way to soak up some sun, sea and sand this summer
One of my (more recent) embarrassing moments started when I received an email from the lovely Madison at the BritBox press office in New York. She was excited about a new exclusive BritBox offering called Best in Paradise. That’s not right, I thought to myself, must be a typo.
“You mean Death in Paradise,” I politely corrected her.
No, she even more politely corrected me, this is a special treat for fans of the Caribbean crime series; the cast sharing their favorite episodes (that’s where the “Best” comes in).
Oops - the perils of a pun!
As aforementioned fans of the show will know, the tropical island of Saint-Marie has much in common with fellow fictional Midsomer and Carsley: seemingly idyllic, but the body-count per episode makes you think twice about wanting to live there. At least there’s some reassurance that when you are murdered in paradise, a team of provincial police officers led by a fish-out-of-water English/Irish detective will investigate and ultimately solve the mystery of your demise.
All nine series of Death in Paradise have proved hugely popular in the UK, regularly pulling in TV audiences of more than 8 million, and earning another spot in the top 10 most-watched programmes for the BBC. The show’s winning formula includes gentle cultural stereotypes (the bemusement of the laid-back locals towards the procedure-stickling, quirky Britishness of the DI), likeable characters, a lighthearted tone and crimes that are oh-so clever and complicated in a Columbo-esque sort of way.
Best in Paradise is a bit like a greatest hits pick (for us oldies) or a cast-created playlist (for anyone under the age of 40). It features the stars introducing a selection of their favourite episodes, spilling the beans on working with guest stars (look out for Neil Morrissey, Hugo Speer and Rupert Graves) secrets behind the stunts, and the real reason Kris Marshall had to cut his hair.
Having missed out on our summer hols this year, we’re all in need of a pick-me-up. What better way to escape reality and get a much-needed dose of sun, sand and sea. Binge the best bits of Death in Paradise and take a TV trip to gorgeous Saint-Marie (without the risk of actually being murdered).
Best in Paradise is streaming exclusively on BritBox.
Agatha Raisin on Acorn TV -
Miss Marple for the 21st Century
If you are a Brit telly addict like me, you’ll know full well that sleepy, picturesque English villages are a veritable hot hub of mystery and murder. Given that Midsomer has a higher homicide rate than downtown Chicago, it’s no surprise to discover that another fictional hamlet, Carsley, is the new crime capital of the Cotswolds. But only since Agatha Raisin set up shop, of course.
As a fan of detective shows, I must admit to really enjoying the wonderful Ashley Jensen in this quirky crime series, which has a refreshing dash of comedy too. With a subtle nod to the queen of mystery Agatha Christie, Ms Raisin is a bit of a modern-day Miss Marple, twenty-something years younger with fab hair, fab lipstick, fab outfits, fab shoes and even more fab handbags.
Agatha Raisin is a PR exec who, in true Escape to the Country style, quits her high-flying career and glam London lifestyle for early retirement and relocation to rural bliss. Once amongst the cute cottages, country pubs, cream teas and church fetes, Agatha befriends an eclectic collection of characters including eccentric villagers, the vicar and his wife and a rather charming aristocratic lord of the manor. She soon becomes an amateur sleuth solving murder mysteries that unfold around the annual quiche-making contest, rambler associations, bell-ringing groups and of course the WI, to name just a few.
The gentle humor, occasional slapstick and gorgeous scenery reminds me of Death in Paradise (minus the sun, sand and Caribbean Sea, of course). It’s all a bit camp, as sassy Aggie and her chums investigate mischief, mayhem and murder in a street-wise-savvy sort of way.
Agatha Raisin is a contemporary, witty whodunnit series that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
And that’s probably why I like it.
Agatha Raisin (series 1-3) is streaming exclusively on Acorn TV.
A feel-good footy film that’s touching, uplifting and beautifully written - this true story restores faith in the power of positivity.
Originally broadcast on BBC 2 and now streaming on Acorn TV, this feature-length biopic is a footy film (sort of) and yet so much more. Toby Jones plays the marvellous Neil Baldwin, a man with learning difficulties who lives with his mum, loves his budgies, and also has an incredible life. When Neil decides to do something, like being a circus clown, student greeter at Keele Uni, Tony Benn’s dinner guest at the Houses of Parliament, or joining the Oxbridge boat race and scoring a winning goal for his beloved Stoke City, he really means it. The only obstacles are those perceived by others, not Neil.
Based on the biography Marvellous, Neil’s story is told in a very gentle and sensitive way; it has moments that made me laugh out loud and moments that made me cry. Although there are a couple of cruel and sweary scenes, this is absolutely a movie about kindness, tenderness and acceptance.
Real Neil himself features in the film, explaining his thoughts to pretend Neil on a bus, while the real Lou Macari and real Gary Lineker also pop-up in cameo roles. Macari later said of the movie, “It’s the best 90 minutes Stoke City’s had for a long time”.
Neil’s innocence and positivity have an amazingly affirming effect on everyone he meets. His philosophy on life: “I’ve always wanted to be happy, so I decided to be.” Neil’s fearless optimism is an inspiration to us all, and just the tonic the world needs right now.
Marvellous is streaming now on Acorn TV.
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David Walliams’ family-friendly films -
perfect for a BritBox kid’s movie night
Comedy actor David Walliams is most famous for Little Britain, Come Fly with Me and (my absolute favourite) Big School, but he’s also a best-selling children’s author. In fact, his funny stories have become so popular with the little ones that Walliams has been hailed as the new Roald Dahl for the 21st century.
Several of his successful books have been adapted for telly by the BBC, so if you are looking for some brilliant films for the kids this summer, you’ll find two of Walliams’ funniest on Britbox:
This adaptation of Walliams’ novel is the story of 12-year old Joe and his dad Len, who get rich quick by inventing a new toilet roll - Bumfresh. Their sudden wealth gives them everything they could ever want - or does it?
The cast includes the fabulous Catherine Tate (who also starred with Walliams in Big School) as a glam 40-something hand model and Len’s new gold-digging girlfriend. Star Wars and Harry Potter actor Warwick Davis appears as himself in the role of Len and Joe’s celebrity butler. Opera-lovers will also enjoy a special cameo performance by Bryn Terfel. And look out for David Walliams playing Mrs Trafe, a dinner lady at Joe’s school who’s so not good at cooking.
In a BBC interview, Walliams said, “I am thrilled we have put together an all-star cast for this adaptation. The script is even bigger and better than the book”.
Billionaire Boy is a whimsical, heartfelt story about what’s really important in life. Not too moralistic or preachy, but there’s a big lesson to learn between the laughs.
Another Walliams’ novel adapted for telly, now streaming on BritBox.
The impressive cast includes Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville as a rather posh tramp befriended by a little girl called Chloe. Sheridan Smith is magnificent as Chloe’s snobby, overbearing, wannabe-MP mum, while Johnny Vegas plays a former rockstar turned henpecked husband and dad to Chloe and her overachieving sister. Once again, David Walliams makes a guest appearance, this time as the smarmy Prime Minister.
When the lonely Chloe invites the vagrant Mr. Stink to move into her garden shed, she soon sniffs a whiff of mystery around a man who thinks one bath a year is more than enough. It turns out this smelly squatter has a few secrets up his stinky sleeve.
I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as some of Walliams’ other stories, but it’s still a touching tale about empathy and friendship. Other themes include bullying, egotism, sibling rivalry and homelessness, but in the usual kid-friendly-Walliams’ style, these are sensitively wrapped in gentle humor. Overall, it reminded me of Roald Dahl’s The BFG.
Both of these made-for-TV movies have a bit of a Christmassy feel, but not too much, meaning these films can still be enjoyed by the whole family all year round.
Also recommended - my personal favourite of all Walliams kid’s stories, available on DVD and in paperback:
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Brits in America -
Living the Dream on BritBox
(This review contains spoilers)
As we love anything starring Philip Glenister (who could forget the infamous Gene Hunt in Life on Mars ?), hubby and I were really excited to discover Living the Dream on BritBox. And having binge-watched season 1 already, we can honestly say this is the best telly we’ve seen in ages.
Living the Dream is a Brit comedy series following the Pemberton family from rainy Yorkshire as they sell up and move across the pond to sunny Florida. Like many real-life expats, the fictional Pembertons are thrilled to discover that living in America means a big house, a big car, a big bed and a big refrigerator.
“I love this fridge!” Mal Pemberton (Glenister) gushes in the shiny new kitchen of his massive new home.
Jen, the mum played by Lesley Sharp, grudgingly agrees to blend in with Stateside suburbia by getting all glammed-up, Desperate Housewife-style. And the teenage kids get their first taste of American high school, where football and soccer are two different sports and the Pledge of Allegiance is a daily requirement. Yes, this is the world of country clubs, evangelical churches and purity pacts, as well as mosquitoes, gators, vampire weddings and tornadoes.
Mal and Jen find themselves running a rundown caravan (RV trailer) park, home to an eclectic group of eccentric residents who are not exactly thrilled to meet their new owners. The redneck manager informs Mal, “I ain’t workin’ for no Australians!” as he promptly quits on day one. And due to the terms of their investor visa, if they fail to make a success of the park, the Pemberton’s immigration status will be revoked, sending them back to Blighty before you can say “Bless their hearts”. No pressure then.
This is a very funny and heartwarming tale of culture clashes and stiff-upper-lip Britishness as Mal and his family fight to make their American dream come true. The cast also includes Kevin Nash who plays the giant Troy (standing at an intimidating 6ft 10, Troy revels in towering over Mal) and Jimmy Akingbola (who previously worked with Glenister on Big School) as a fellow Brit investor. And for anyone wondering about the filming location, there’s a little bit of fake news going on here: season 1 was actually shot near beautiful Savannah, so it’s really Georgia pretending to be Florida. (Eagle-eyed viewers will spot the distinctive Talmadge Memorial Bridge in several scenes, which is a big giveaway.)
But as we watched, the Georgia connection wasn’t the only thing that resonated with hubby and I. As Brit expats living in the Deep South ourselves, there was so much of the Pemberton’s experience we could relate to. From constantly getting into the wrong side of the car to compliments on our “Australian” accents and the funny looks we get for using a knife and fork at the same time, this was all so spookily familiar. And just like Mal and Jen, hubby and I often have to pinch ourselves: even after all these years, we still can’t quite believe we are actually Living the (American) Dream.
The final episode of season 1 culminates with the Pembertons and the trailer park residents together singing an amusing mash-up of God Save the Queen and My Country Tis of Thee. A fitting tribute to Anglo-American relations and the perfect end to this brilliant first series.
Highly recommended for expats
(and everyone else).
Living the Dream
seasons 1 & 2
streaming on BritBox
Living and loving life
in America - by a blogging Brit.
I am a wife, teacher & writer originally from the UK.
Now metro Atlanta is